Thursday, July 24, 2008

If the Price is Right

Last night I meant to write about price differences. Differences in grocery prices and gas prices and how difficult it can be at times to keep up and get the best deal. But, by the time I did the shopping and came home I was too exhausted to write about it.

I went grocery shopping last night to 2 different stores. I had a very short time frame for getting to Superstore and shopping there after I finished working at 10:30 pm. Actually, even being able to get to Superstore after work is something new. They used to close earlier but recently started staying open until 11 pm. I arrived about 10:45 pm and moved as quickly as I could inside the store.

The Bolthouse protein drink I have every morning has always been $1.10 cheaper at Superstore and is one of the reasons I went there. I bought 4 big bottles, which would have cost $4.99 each at Safeway. I was expecting to pay $3.89 but the shelf sign actually said 2/$6. So I got 8 breakfasts for $12, or $1.50 each (for 20 grams of protein).

The other things I buy at Superstore on a regular basis are European style bread, butter, sour cream, pistachio nuts, packaged cookies and foil pans. Last night I bought all of those except the foil pans. Some of them (the bread, sour cream and cookies) are only available there. The other items are a better buy. For example, a pound of Lactantia butter is cheaper at Superstore than Safeway, but the President's Choice brand (also kosher) is even cheaper.

Last night I checked the prices of a few other items I needed and bought them there. Kleenex tissues are $4.07 at Safeway. Here they were $2.37! Goodies (a candy coated licorice candy) are $2.65 at Safeway and $1.85 at Superstore. I also bought President's Choice mayo instead of Kraft for at least $2 cheaper but I've never tried it before so we'll see how it tastes.

Prices like these make me want to shop there but Superstore comes with some big drawbacks too. I don't like the produce, the lines at the checkouts are long and many people have heaped carts, so it takes forever to go through the checkout. They don't bag your groceries and you have to pay for plastic bags or bring your own. Besides that, it's out of my way, so it costs more in gas to go there, plus I spend more time standing in line.

But I want to save money, so I think I'll start planning to go to Superstore every 2 weeks. That way I get the better prices, but don't spend too much on gas, etc.

As for gas, the prices rise and fall on a regular basis, much more quickly than the price of a barrel of oil changes and with little visible reason. Since we buy our gas by the litre a change of 4 or 5 cents is equivalent to something like 16 to 20 cents per gallon, so the swings in price are actually pretty significant.

When I went to Superstore I drove past a Chevron station where the advertised price was $1.379. I didn't stop because then Superstore would have closed, but I headed back about half an hour later. As I left the Superstore parking lot, I saw another station with a price of $1.426 and started worrying. Then I passed a Petrocan advertising $138.8 but the Chevron was now also $1.426. I turned around and headed back to the Petrocan.

Let me just interject for a moment and explain a peculiarity of gas pricing in the Greater Vancouver area. A number of years ago the price on the sign used to be the same as the price at the pump. Then a few stations started offering a 3.5 cent discount to "members" (this was actually Petrocan, if I remember correctly). Shortly all the other stations were also offering 3.5 cents off the posted price but without requiring any membership. This has carried on to this day, but only in the Greater Vancouver area. If you go further out into the Fraser Valley gas prices drop slightly (due to less taxes) but the posted price is now the price at the pump.

Are you confused yet? I got to the Petrocan and discovered that the $138.8 they were advertising was the price at the pump. Another 3.5 cent discount was available only to persons with a Petrocan points card. If you also paid with a certain specific credit card you could get yet another 2 cents off. By this time it was almost 11:15 pm and I couldn't be bothered going elsewhere but I was somewhat ticked off. The $1.426 at Chevron would have actually been $1.391 so my "saving" at the Petrocan was really only a small fraction of a cent. Still, it was a far better price than I'd seen recently, so I put in $40 (my tank was almost completely empty).

Then I had to drive in a somewhat convoluted way to get to Safeway. On my way there I passed another Chevron and another Petrocan. They were both advertising gas for less, so I stopped at the Petrocan and the pump price was now a) 3.5 cents below the sign and b) it was for $136.9! I put in another $20, which finished filling my tank. But I was mad that I'd put in the rest at the higher price.

This morning, some 8 or 9 hours later, gas was selling everywhere at a posted price of $144.6 ($141.1 at the pump). So the rise and fall of gas prices is like a game. It goes down at night and then back up in time for rush hour. When our new 2.4 cent carbon tax went in at the beginning of the month almost all our local stations were advertising gas over $1.50. Now I can get it again under the $1.40 mark if I watch the signs like a hawk. Plus, what was this nonsense with two Petrocan stations (10 minutes from each other) not only selling at 2 different prices but one only offering the 3.5 cent discount to "members"?

I don't want to buy another car. This one is paid for and runs well. I don't need to add a car payment to our financial situation. But I would like a car that is super-economical on gas because playing these gas games is really irritating!

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